Montana judge to be censured over rape comments

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday will publicly reprimand a judge who gave a lenient sentence to a rapist after suggesting the 14-year-old victim shared some of the responsibility for the crime.

District Judge G. Todd Baugh, of Billings, is scheduled to appear before the court in Helena, where one of the justices will read a censure statement prepared in advance. Baugh will likely get an opportunity to address the court, and the censure will then go into the record, state Supreme Court clerk Ed Smith said Monday.

The censure is a public declaration by the high court that a judge is guilty of misconduct. The rarely used punishment was recommended by the state's Judicial Standards Commission, which investigated complaints into the comments Baugh made during Stacey Dean Rambold's sentencing last year.

"It's a process basically to publicly reprimand them for their conduct bringing dishonor on their position and the court's judicial system," Smith said.

The standards commission can impose or recommend to the Supreme Court a range of disciplinary actions if it finds merit in a misconduct complaint filed against a judge. They range from a private letter of admonishment to removal from office.

The Supreme Court accepted the commission's recommendation for Baugh's censure, but also added a 31-day suspension. Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote in the order that Baugh had eroded confidence in the court system.

Baugh sent Rambold to prison for 30 days last year after he pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse without consent.

Rambold was a 47-year-old business teacher at Billings Senior High School at the time of the 2007 rape. The victim was one of his students. She committed suicide while the case was pending trial.

Baugh said during Rambold's sentencing in August that the teenager was "probably as much in control of the situation as the defendant" and that she "appeared older than her chronological age."

Under state law, children younger than 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse.

After a public outcry, Baugh apologized for the comments and acknowledged the short prison sentence violated state law. He attempted to revise it retroactively but was blocked when the state filed its appeal.

The last Montana judge was censured by the Supreme Court was District Judge Jeffrey Langton, of Hamilton, in 2005. Langton had pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge, then was placed on probation for violating the terms of his sentence.

Rambold has been free since last fall after serving the original sentence. After his release, Rambold registered as a sex offender and was to remain on probation through 2028.

Prosecutors appealed Baugh's sentence, and the Supreme Court in April ordered a new sentencing in the case by a different judge. District Judge Randal Spaulding, of Roundup, is scheduled to re-sentence Rambold on Sept. 26.

Baugh, who is the son of former Washington Redskins quarterback "Slingin'" Sammy Baugh, has said he plans to retire after three decades on the bench when his term expires in December.